The highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, rises to more than 19,000 feet above sea level, or about 16,000 from its base. It is also the second highest mountain in the world.
Kilimajaro has three volcanic cones including Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, but the mountain is a dormant volcano. It is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park, a popular climbing destination, and subject of many scientific studies as well. There have been a number of theories trying to explain the origin of the name. One of them suggests that the name is derived from two words: Kilima (a Swahili word) which means mountain and Njaro (a KiChagga word) which translates to whiteness. Another theory claims that Kilimanjaro simply means we failed to climb it.
Climbing the Mountain
Whether or not any of the theories is true, the fact is that many people have reached the summit. More or less 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year and the majority of them reach to the top. Many of those who failed to climb usually had problems with altitude-related issues or weather (especially near the peak). At the peak, the temperature can go down to 0-degree F (or minus 18°C), and that’s when the wind is not blowing; added with strong wind, the temperature can go lower. While there is no restriction on when you should climb it, summer and early fall have been the more preferable seasons. Wet season only makes the temperature colder.
Mount Kilimanjaro has five climbing route including:
- Marangu Route
- Machame Route
- Rongai Route
- Lemosho Route
- Mweka Route
The easiest route is Marangu, and therefore it is the busiest as well. Just because it is easy, however, it does not mean it is the most popular, too. Lemosho and Machame are both scenic routes and better known than others.
In case you are planning to climb the mountain anytime soon, you may want to know a thing or two about Mount Kilimanjaro before you get there:
- It is challenging: many people will tell you that climbing Mountain Kilimanjaro is relatively easy, and you probably don’t need a whole lot of equipment. While it is true that you may not need a full package of hiking gears, the routes are not a walk in the park either. There are trails of boulders which can seem like they go on forever especially if you are beginner. Even when you don’t need to prepare a bag of gears, you still need to prepare your conditions. Make sure you are fit, healthy, and ready to do some physical trainings.
- Yes, it is safe: by safe, it means nothing in the mountain has the intention to do you any harm. With the exception of the lack of oxygen, the environment all along the route is quite conducive for a fun adventure. During the night, chances are you will hear animals shrieking around your camp. The noises are pretty scary, but they come from small tree hyrax, which is harmless.
- Don’t rush it: one of the biggest challenges is the lack of oxygen in higher altitude. In the event you are climbing with a group of people, perhaps you are inclined to stay with the pack all the time. It does not matter if you have the stamina and physical strength to catch up all the time, but it may hurt at the end. By slowing it down, you have the time to acclimate in high altitude, reducing the possibility of altitude sickness and increasing your chance of reaching the summit. Don’t be afraid to tell your guide that you don’t need to climb fast, even if you hate to admit it.
- Altitude sickness: it is always good idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro after you’ve climbed several other lower-altitude mountains before. Altitude sickness does not discriminate; even people with perfect physical conditions are not risk-free, let alone the less-prepared. The worst thing about altitude sickness is that it can strike you only when you reach considerable altitude, so it sounds like a ridiculous idea to go down when you are just 2,000 feet away from the summit. When it attacks you, there will be combination of nausea, hallucinations, and vomiting.
- It’s worth the struggle: anytime you feel like giving up, remember that the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is one of very few places on Earth where you can see majestic views of the nature. Some people even say like it is just like in a different world; if you are standing on a 16,000-feet tall mountain, it is hard to argue with that. In the night, you can also see probably the clearest view of the sky ever.
The mountain is home to wide variety of forest types. On the wet southern slopes, there is the Montane Ocotea forest; on the dry northern slope, it has Juniperus and Cassipourea. The Subalpine Erica forest is the highest elevation forest in Africa at about 13,400 feet high. Together, those forests harbor about 1,200 vascular plant species. The mountain has quite high rainfall, but it is different from other similar mountains in East Africa in the sense that it does not have bamboo zone; it also means that there is limited supply of food for animals living in the mountain.
Some species do thrive on Kilimanjaro, for examples Blue Monkeys (actually grey or black), bush pigs, leopards, mongooses, baboons, and civets. Aardvarks and honey badgers also exists, but they are nocturnal creatures so visitors rarely see them.